Mike Sands '02
Ph.D. candidate, robotics

Wave of the Future

When Mike Sands ’02 entered Moravian at 14 years old, he had life figured out – he’d earn his undergraduate degree and begin a career in computer science. But independent study research offered him the freedom to explore his own ideas, leading him to graduate school and a groundbreaking discovery.

Sands and a team of fellow Lehigh University grad students are designing a “smart” wheelchair for quadriplegics. Current systems require users to employ cumbersome techniques, such as sip and blow, to operate the chair. Sands’ team is developing an autonomous chair operated by voice recognition. For instance, the user says, “Take me to the bank,” and the chair – knowing its current geographic location as well as that of the bank – will navigate itself to the destination, all the while avoiding obstacles and people and safely crossing streets.

“The independent studies I did with Joe Gerencher, emeritus professor of earth science, influenced my decision to come back to grad school,” he says. “Most people think of Moravian as a liberal arts school, but it also has a well-educated science faculty with very good credentials. My professors took a personal interest in their students. Students knew that if they had a question, they could just walk right up to their offices, knock, and walk in.”

Sands first met Gerencher as an eighth grader when he took the professor’s astronomy class through the Johns Hopkins University Search for Talented Youth program. He decided to forgo high school to major in computer science and physics at Moravian.

“After that experience, it was a no-brainer to attend,” says Sands, whose work on earthquake data distribution software with Gerencher was published in Journal of Geoscience. “Moravian was like a family that offered a good education. I had great professors who encouraged me to pursue my interests and enlightening classes. And the student body was friendly and receptive to having a young kid in their midst. After the first month, everybody forgot my age and we were all along for the same ride.”

12/14/10

Mike Sands

"Moravian has a well-educated science faculty with very good credentials. I had great professors, who encouraged me to pursue my interests, and enlightening classes."